Happy Easter! After the annual break in stewardship preaching ideas for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday, the stewardship preaching nuggets return this week. Given the reality of digital worship being our norm for the foreseeable future, I will try to take that into account as well. Without further ado, this week’s stewardship nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for the Second Sunday of Easter are as follows:
Our stories this week begin with Acts 2, and a reminder that we are witnesses. We are witnesses to God’s work. We are witnesses to God’s activity. And as disciples and stewards, we are witnesses to God’s promises affirmed, and participants in God’s creative and redeeming work in the world. It’s a perfect start to the Second Sunday of Easter, where we celebrate the empty tomb, and God’s creative, redeeming, and reconciling work through the resurrection.
We are reminded in this story, “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:22-24, NRSV). Understanding this, we are reminded of our role in this work. God has done all of the hard stuff, for us. But to it and for it, we are witnesses, and that guides and informs our calls and identities as disciples and stewards, as the writer concludes, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses” (Acts 2:32, NRSV).
The psalmist gives words to our rejoicing. Offering us a way to respond with gratitude and rejoicing, our joyful response to all that God has done and will do, for us. Going to and through the point of death on a cross, but not letting that death have the final word. This is the promise and gift of Easter. Resurrection is real. New life happens. And for all of this, we have hope. The psalmist proclaims and we do too, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:9-11, NRSV).
The theme of rejoicing is repeated and articulated in the second lesson from 1 Peter 1. Within this lesson we read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice…” (1 Peter 1:3-6, NRSV)
“In this you rejoice…” Stewardship is all about telling the story of God’s work and promises. But it’s also a celebration, so that despite the craziness of the world around us, despite the fear and anxiety of the pandemic, we know that we can still rejoice in this time of uncertainty and physical distancing. We rejoice because God’s promises are true. God is with us. God is for us. And God loves us. Always.
Yes, it is not normal now. Yes, it isn’t ideal or happy to be physically apart from all those we love. But we do so, out of a deep love for each, and we do so in the trust that God’s promises of resurrection, and new and abundant life are true. For as the epistle writer proclaims, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9, NRSV). This is good news. And helps shape the why behind why we do what we do. The why behind our faith. The why behind our lives and vocations and callings as disciples and stewards.
The why is also at the heart of this week’s gospel story. As we do every year, the Second Sunday of Easter, one of jokes is also one of doubts. It’s one where we hear the familiar story of the disciple named Thomas. Surely we all can relate to his doubts. In our world today, I suspect in our communities today, we all have our doubts. Perhaps we doubted the severity of this pandemic, or perhaps you might doubt it now? Or, perhaps you have your doubts about your community, state, or country’s response to it, and plan to overcome it? To doubt in your larger community’s ability to recover, heal, and restore lives. Wherever you might be, in how you are feeling and dealing with the pandemic and its affects on your life and your family’s life, know that the Good News is for you.
The Good News of the gospel this week, begins with Jesus’ appearance to his disciples and the invitation to and sharing of peace. We read, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.‘ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'” (John 20:19-23, NRSV).
Peace. Rejoicing. Forgiveness. The gift of the Holy Spirit. All of this is good news. All of this are examples of God’s presence with us, of God’s love for us, and God’s promises fulfilled. Now the disciples that were present that day, leaned in. But one who wasn’t with them, Thomas, refused. Perhaps it was his way of grief? Perhaps it was his way of not wanting to build up hope just to have his hope dashed again, as he likely did before Jesus was handed over and killed on a cross? We know how this goes. When our hopes are dashed. We want to protect ourselves from that pain, anguish, and disappointment, and perhaps Thomas was doing just that.
But the story goes on. “But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe’” (John 20:24-25, NRSV). We’ll let Thomas’ borderline act of putting God to the test slide here. In terms of stewardship though, perhaps this is a good story for thinking about when we forget what is possible with God, but also, that it is God’s work that is being done, not our own. God is active and up to something, and every time we think we have it figured out, God surprises us with another act of unbelievable love in the world. The problems always surface when we think it’s more about us, and our ability to control or be in control, rather than that we are followers as disciples and stewards, and witnesses to God’s promises and action in the world out of God’s deep and abundant love for us.
So it should be no surprise to Thomas and the rest, that God in Christ again shows up in this story. The story concludes, “A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!‘ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:26-31, NRSV).
These stories are written so that “we may believe.” And this week, as disciples and stewards we’re invited to move past our doubts to believe that God’s promises are true. To believe that God’s saving work is true. To believe that God’s claims and words of love are more than just words, but they are very much who God is. And to believe that God is with us, just as God in Christ was with Thomas in this story that we hear again this week.
Discipleship and stewardship involve telling the story. They involve remembering and proclaiming what is God’s, and whose we are, as God’s beloved children. At the heart of the Easter story, is the very identity of who God is. It is the why behind all that we do and believe. And it is the why behind stewardship and discipleship too.
From the gospel of Mark, the narrative moves in the days after the resurrection to the stories of Acts. The story begins, connecting Acts with the Gospel of Luke, making the connection that the two are paired together as a continuation of one story. Telling of God’s work in the world, and how we are all witnesses of God’s work and activity- of God’s promises and love borne out for all. Pointing to our work and role as stewards and disciples.
The story begins. “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’” (Acts 1:1-5, NRSV).
The events that Jesus foretold came to pass. And the disciples gathered, before Jesus left them. And as they gathered, the disciples, like anyone who would have witnessed such things, had questions. They wanted to grow in their understanding. They wanted to know what God might be up to next, and how they might be called to be part of it.
The story continues, including Jesus’ ascension. “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:6-11, NRSV).
How would one make sense to all of this? How would one respond to it? How might we all be witnesses to these things, and how might our witness shape our lives as stewards and disciples? Surely the Holy Spirit’s presence will fill the disciples and send them out, but that’s a part of the story for the weeks ahead. In the meantime, this week’ story ends with a more intimate look at those closest to Jesus, and how they responded.
The story continues. “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers” (Acts 1:12-14, NRSV).
The life of a steward and disciple is grounded in prayer and fellowship. It’s grounded in God’s presence and work. And it’s grounded in a deep trust and sense of belief, that God is with you, for you, and loves you.
This trust and belief are at the heart of the suggested paired passage from Mark. For within this story, Jesus calls the twelve and sends them out. And this is what it looks like: “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mark 6:7-13, NRSV).
Both the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary are filled with good Easter news this week. News of promises and God’s work. News of God’s deep and abiding presence and abundant love. News that makes possible our lives as disciples and stewards, and more so, makes possible, going about our days right now amid the uncertainty and anxiety of a global pandemic, an economic recession or depression, and the rapid pace of change that all of our lives have gone through in the past month. Amid all of this, God’s Word is true. Amid all of this God’s promises are true. And amid all of this, God’s love is indeed full and for you. May you trust in that, and proclaim it this week in all that you say and do.